Purging for Minimization/Mindful Holidays

 

I wrote this blog last week, but felt like it was appropriate to be posted today, when we simultaneously give thanks for all that we have in our lives (the people, the jobs, the homes), celebrate a mass genocide and prepare ourselves to buy more potentially unnecessary material possessions, simply because it is cheap. Today has been one of the hardest days for me to prepare for, seeing the excess of food, the waste that goes into preparing for the holiday, and the lack of mindfulness about the historical significance of what we are truly celebrating. (Check out this article for a bit of context: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/thanksgiving-annual-genocide-whitewash-171120073022544.html). I know that it is a real downer to hear about the origins of a well-loved holiday, and it is certainly not a convenient truth that makes us feel positively towards our culture, but it is an important impetus for a more mindful experience. It is up to the individual to decide what is just and right, and for me that is to spend time with my family and appreciate all that they have done for me in order to give me the best possible chance at living a great life.

 

 

 

I have long been an advocate of the minimalist lifestyle – from the mentally freeing space that it gives me to ponder, create and reinvent to the positive impact on the environment, I appreciate the positives of this way of living to the utmost degree. Since my return back to the States, I have decided that in order to live more authentically and in the best way that I know how, I have to devote myself even more fully to living with as little material possession as possible. This has taken more time, energy and thoughtfulness than I imagined, because I don’t just want to dump everything into the trash to become an even greater part of our global waste problem. Part of the mindfulness comes from not polluting the Earth anymore than it already has been, and that means making sure that the items I am getting rid of end up in the right hands to either be reused or recycled. Through a ton of research, asking questions and locating community resources, I have compiled the best donation points for the different categories that I have sorted through. I hope that this helps in locating the best avenues to give your gently used goods to, if you are on your own path to minimalizing, or you just want to do good for others and clean out some unused items in the process.

 

Bridesmaids Dresses

  • Becca’s Closet: collection point is in Thomasville where you can drop off dresses for girls who cannot afford to go to prom. Girls are able to come by and pick out a dress from the donated items free of charge.http://www.beccascloset.org/
  • Girl Talk Foundation: collection points in the Charlotte area beginning January 2018. Girls come and take a 90 minute class on etiquette from local professionals before picking out their dresses free of charge.https://www.girltalkfoundationinc.com/programs/prom-project/

 

Clothing/Furniture/Household Appliances

  • Plato’s Closet: buys name brand, gently used clothing and accessories, offering cash or in store credit for trades. They are a bit more picky about what they take, since they are located near the University and keep up to date with style and current fashion.https://www.platoscloset.com/
  • Buffalo Exchange: buys gently used clothing and accessories, offering cash or in store credit.  Even more picky than Plato’s Closet since they are in a very (slowly gentrifying) Hipster part of the city, in my opinion.https://www.buffaloexchange.com/locations/charlotte/charlotte/
  • Crisis Assistance Ministry: provides clothing and household goods to those in need (albeit with the correct documentation to prove that they are “truly in need”) free of charge in their “Free Store”.  They also offer tax deductible receipts.https://crisisassistance.org/donate-clothing-and-household-goods/ways-to-give/
  • Goodwill: Probably the best known of all the donation stores. Convenient drive-through locations allow for simple drop offs, and they offer job placement, career counseling and training to local community members. The Goodwill Center off of Wilkinson, near the airport, even houses an amazingly staffed Community Clinic for those without health insurance or a primary care doctor.  Tax deductible receipts when you donate, and they offer pick up for large items.https://goodwillsp.org/donate/
  • The National Kidney Services: Donations go towards kidney disease research at the National Kidney Foundation, furthering education and advocacy programs in the Carolinas. They are best known for picking up larger items from your home if you schedule with them in advance.http://nkspickup.com/
  • Lydia’s Loft: Located on the outskirts of Huntersville, this organization accepts donations of clothing and household appliances on their back porch due to their limited hours of in-store presence.  They allow community members to come in and free shop their inventory after a referral is made from a school counselor or pastor.  They also accept volunteers or monetary donations.
    http://www.lydiasloft.org/

 

Books

 

Makeup/Toiletries 

If you are like me, then you accumulated a lot of these items during your adolescent years, trying to figure out what works for your hair and skin. Before throwing out the product and recycling the bottles, see if you can pass them along to someone else who can use them.

  • Women’s Shelter: In Charlotte, the Shelter for Battered Women informed me that they only accept non-used products, but do accept donations. Most of my items were opened, so this was not an option for me. Consider giving away all of those (unopened) hotel bottles and soaps or Christmas lotions that you have been hoarding to this shelter.http://www.safealliance.org/programs/domestic-violence-shelter/
  • Online re-sell stores: Some of these organizations, like Glambot, buy used makeup, sanitize and resell at low costs. They only accept name brand makeup, so keep that in mind if you are a low cost product purchaser.https://www.glambot.com/sell

 

Phones

If your technology is still in working order and you think that someone might be able to use it in the future, trade them in to Best Buy or your phone store of choice, or sell it to a technology resale shop. If you emulate my lack of kindness to technology and it doesn’t quite work well enough, you can find another option in phone recycling.

  • EcoATM: There are many kiosks found throughout Charlotte, most located in malls like Northlake and Walmart shops. You can trade your phone in for cash on the spot, depending on the quality and usability of your phone, in less than 5 minutes. The organization then takes the phone and uses it for parts or recycles it in a way that doesn’t damage the environment with the possibility of leeching chemicals into the ground at landfills.https://www.ecoatm.com/
  • SafeAlliance: They accept phone donations which they sell to a third party retailer, who then gives a part of that money back to SafeAlliance to continue helping those in need and victims of sexual assault.http://www.safealliance.org/get-involved/collection-drives/

 

 

If you are familiar with any other worthwhile organizations in the Charlotte area, please comment them below so that others can have access to as many resources as possible.

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2017 Travel Questions and Superlatives

 

After a whirlwind of a return to the U.S. in which I have spent getting reacquainted to the fast paced life of New York City, Pennsylvania and Charlotte, I have had some (generally) thoughtful questions regarding my favorite and least favorite parts of my journey this last two and a half years.  I wanted to share them with you all and hope that it gives a bit of perspective on my experiences as well as helps you when speaking to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in the future.  We are a bit overwhelmed by the amount of stimulus intake and might be feeling somewhat lost in a world of fast paced English speaking and over-consumption, so your patience and understanding while we transition is more of a gift than any physical one could ever compare to.

 

How was Africa?

I cannot comment upon the entire continent of Africa, but the eight countries that I visited were lovely and unique in their own respects.  We should all check the way that we speak about Africa, especially the ways that the media portrays the continent and lumps it into poverty porn for the benefit of charity organizations and feeling superior in the West.  Check out an awesome article below that discusses the detriment of unchecked privilege and misunderstandings.

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/confusing-country-continent-how-we-talk-about-africa/311621/

 

How did you manage to travel so long after your service? Wasn’t it expensive?

In total, after traveling for five months exactly, I spent less money than most people would spend just on their monthly rent for five months, especially now that the housing market has exploded in the Charlotte area. I traveled by bus instead of by plane, unless water got in the way, cooked a lot of my own meals, stayed at hostels or CouchSurfing instead of staying at hotels. I prioritized new experiences and mental health over a flat screen TV, the latest iPhone or a new version of a car that was working just fine.

 

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What I looked like for five months – a homeless blob of bags and back pain.

 

Which country did you have the best CouchSurfing experiences in?

Ukraine. I met some really unique and incredible people who shared their cultures, customs and great conversations as well as their homes. It felt really natural to be near where my ancestors came from and to get to know new routines, occupations and perspectives. I felt an affinity to the mindsets of the friends I met while in Ukraine and appreciated the curiosity and kindness I felt.

 

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Finding local restaurants off the beaten path – the benefits of staying with someone who knows the best places.

 

How was your experience in the Peace Corps?

Amazing, perspective shifting, some of the most difficult and challenging experiences I have ever had. I cannot begin to culminate 2.5 years into a few sentences; can you tell me how your last 2.5 years have been?

 

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Just harassing some kids at the Orphanage in Khorixas.

 

Wait, you were in Africa.. does that mean you have HIV, Ebola, Yellow Fever or some other scary disease that I can’t pronounce and don’t know the epidemiology of because you were living with people who were biologically different from you?

This one came as a surprise to me, although I should have been prepared for it.  Despite the fact that the Ebola epidemic was mostly contained in West Africa (Namibia is in Southern Africa, for geographic reference – https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html) and you can contract HIV anywhere in the world if you participate in unsafe and risky behaviors, I have begun to learn empathy for those who have never had education outside of “Africa is dangerous”.  There are more people living with HIV in Charlotte than the population of my entire village in Namibia.  In order to be invited into the Peace Corps, we have to go through rigorous health testing to ensure that we are fit for service.  We also get quite a bit of blood work done towards the end of our service, including optional testing for HIV and a slew of antimalarial, schistosomiasis pills to make sure that we are returning at optimal health.  I have chosen to use this question as an opportunity to provide education on foreign health and take on a very transparent communication about my health while abroad and returning.  If you have specific questions about vaccinations, prophylaxis or how my health is looking now that I have returned, please feel free to ask.

 

What city or country had the best food?

I absolutely loved the fresh fruits and vegetables everywhere in Uganda, and my budget loved it even more. The friend I was traveling with at the time and I made a lot of guacamole for meals and our hosts, one of which introduced us to the best goat cheese and cafes in Kampala. This is also the home of the Rolex, a flat egg with veggies and onions wrapped in a fresh chapatti and all the oil your body can handle, which we feasted on many times (by that I mean every day).

 

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In my element, taking over someone’s kitchen.

 

 

Which country did you spend the most time in?

I spent almost a month in Germany, traveling to the main cities and visiting old and new friends. I have now dedicated myself to becoming fluent in German, so being there helped me to practice having conversations instead of just learning vocabulary on DuoLingo. It was the first country I visited after leaving the African continent, and provided just the right amount of Westernization with the strict time constraints that I hadn’t felt in two years of Namibian non-existent time.

 

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Sunrise in Berlin, Germany

 

Which country did you feel the most culture shock in?

Outside of the U.S, the UAE left my jaw on the floor. I spent an 8 hour layover in Dubai on my way to Germany and thanks to a fantastic friend, got to see a few amazing places in the city of lights and excess. I think that Dubai is overwhelming to most people, but it was certainly a contrast to the oft-felt depravity of where I was living and traveling. The lights, the huge infrastructure, taking a gondola to the restaurant where we were having dinner – it was a lot to take in. But nothing beats the noise of Charlotte traffic, suburban normalization and the “Jesus Saves” bumper stickers that abound my current peripherals.

 

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Brooklyn, NYC after the initial enormity of the city wore off.

 

Which city had the best architecture?

Initially I thought that I would have said Prague, for the rest of my life, but then I went to Gdańsk in the northern tip of Poland. Nestled on the Baltic Sea amidst old shipping ports, the architecture here had me wishing that I was able to spend more than one extended day there. The starting point for World War II (many people know the city by its German name Danzig), a few buildings are left structurally intact, but most were reconstructed similarly to Warsaw.

 

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Gdańsk, Poland

 

What was the best book you read while traveling?

Definitely a tie between Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Both fantastic female authors who bring about modern issues of feminism, freedom and morality (or mortality in Atwood’s case). I read Americanah passing from Kenya into Uganda and The Handmaid’s Tale in Ethiopia before I finally left the continent – books that will remain my mind alongside my memories of these countries.

 

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Butterfly Space Hostel, Malawi – the most dreadful hour long ride up a mountain for the most worth-while views in the country.

 

Where did you feel the most in danger?

New York City. I arrived back in the Big Apple a few days before the most recent attack and happened to be staying at a hotel two blocks away from the crime scene. Many people assume that it is incredibly dangerous to travel in Africa or in Central and Eastern Europe, but I felt nothing but appreciation for the warm welcomes that I received in all of my wanderings. A little extra awareness and cultural sensitivity to where you are traveling goes a long way in regard to your safety in a new country.

 

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Hotel room view of the One World Trade Center, NYC

 

Where did you feel the most harassment?

And the grand winner is.. my old village of Khorixas, Namibia! I do not say this to continue beating a dead horse, as I have spoken about the immense amount of harassment I felt while I was there many times, but I felt the need to address it since this is a question I have received multiple times. I feel as though I have processed a lot during my travels and in the last two weeks being back in the States, as well as let go of a lot of the negative experiences I had there. I am in awe of myself for persevering and navigating through challenging cultural circumstances and have embodied a new sense of confidence in my adaptability and comfort in discomfort.

 

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Halloween in the ‘Xas – bringing U.S. culture to Namibia.

 

How do you think that your travels changed you?

In numerous ways, of course. I feel a profound sense of confidence in my ability to adjust and adapt to new cultures, and a real strength in cultural sensitivity. I have been able to put my stubbornness behind me (mostly) and realize that there are so many different ways to look at the world – my way might be the best for me, but it is certainly not for everyone. This goes for the Muslim women in hijabs I met in Zanzibar to the radical Christian women I have come in contact with since being back in Charlotte. A deep respect for others and the unique ways of life they encompass has become more of a priority to show respect for instead of opposition or confusion. I do not fear the unknown and instead feel more ready to embrace the possibilities of a non-traditional lifestyle.

 

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Zambezi River, Zambia

 

In closing, I want to thank those of you who have offered support to me during this time of transition. It has been more of a culture shock than I anticipated, and just knowing that there are people willing to listen to my stories in broken English means more than I had ever imagined it would. I’m thankful for the friendships I have that seem to have picked up easily where we left off 2 ½ years ago, and the comfort I feel in seeing people I missed so much during my service. Thanks to all of you who give patience and understanding to RPCVs who are struggling with coming back to a home that feels more foreign than familiar.

 

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Kulpmont, Pennsylvania with my 92 year old Grandfather.

Lessons from an Always-Learning Nomad

 

As my time of extended travel across thirteen vastly diverse countries, constant African mosquito bite scars and anti-malaria prophylaxis is finally coming to an end, I have been more reflective than usual about what it has all meant. I knew going into this experience that it would change me, in more ways than I could probably imagine – and that has certainly held true. I have gained so much confidence in myself – in my abilities to navigate difficult circumstances, in remaining strong and coherent for others when they are unable to, and in who I am and how I can affect the world as an individual. I recognize these great traits that I possess more than I ever have, instead of merely listening to others tell them to me. It might sound overly confident to many raised in the always self-humbling culture of the U.S, but I have learned that knowing your worth and marketing those traits are essential in this world, whether for professional or personal purposes.

 

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Abandoned Prypiat, Chornobyl – 90 kilometers outside of Kyiv, Ukraine

 

I have naturally lost a bit of myself: more of my OCD tendencies have shed from my perfectionist ideal; most of my standards for what an ideal home should look (or smell or feel) like; my overly cautious need for cleanliness and the obsession with perfect health; my amazingly compact sleeping bag and silk liner that carried me through my Peace Corps travels (I’m coming for you, Kenya Airways). I have had time to ponder, the ability to meet new and influential people, whether good or bad (shout out to you, guy in Arusha with a nice new American made stainless steel water bottle), see old friends and make new ones, and explore places that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I’ve carried two hiking bags with me over the expanse of two continents and countless cities. I somehow managed to wear every single piece of clothing that I brought with me, from a bathing suit and shorts to my winter jacket, gloves and hat. I have hiked on Mt. Kilimanjaro, kayaked across Lake Malawi, visited the countries that my ancestors came from, taken all forms of transportation to get to one place or the other and relished every minute of it. Okay, maybe not EVERY minute.. how can you enjoy someone puking next to you or getting lost in the middle of the night in a strange new city? It is difficult in the moment, but I have managed to find humor in the frustrating moments, strength when I felt lost and confused, and bliss when everything worked out just fine in the end. Sometimes even better than expected.

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Transportation sometimes comes in the form of the top of a 4×4 truck at sunset on the Ethiopian salt pans.

 

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Other times it is a 36 hour train ride with the smells of urine wafting through your cabin and a hole in the bottom of the train floor for toilets.

 

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And sometimes it is a busted kombi (excuse me, minubus) that gets a flat tire before you get kicked off and shoved onto another bus to your final destination.

And with these few words, I now declare this meeting officially opened. Just kidding – a little joke for anyone who has sat through an infinite number of seemingly never-ending meetings in Namibia. I now present: lessons I have learned along the way, in no particular order of importance.

 

  1. I absolutely love being on my own schedule and being completely independent. It has been the most amazing experience for me to figure out how to get from one city to another, without speaking the local language and sometimes not having an exact or concrete plan. It has given me the freedom to change things as I see fit and to organize my travels based on local opinions, without having to consult with a travel partner. As amazing of a travel companion you might have, you still need to compromise on what each of you is interested in. Despite my appreciation for this increase of individual independence, I have also grown enough to admit my vulnerabilities. One of those is the feeling of loneliness I sometimes felt while on the road – something I had not previously allowed myself to feel. Traveling is incredible and allows you to learn and grow, but it is almost certainly better when you have someone next to you to share it with.
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    Probably being followed by our many new “friends” in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

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    Cool hostel and even cooler travel companions in Livingstone, Zambia.
  2. Not many people enjoy traveling like I do. Most of my friends can attest to my cheap tendencies in everyday situations, to the point that I will barter with someone over the smallest amounts of money that makes them roll their eyes and shake their heads. I like to travel the way local people do, which is not always luxury. Actually, it is almost never luxury, except for my brief evening in Dubai with a pretty amazing guide. I like to stay with people as opposed to staying in a hostel, meeting new people and seeing their way of life. With the money that I save on transportation and accommodation, I am able to more fully enjoy the place I am visiting and continue my travels on a budget.

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    Wedding crashing on Lake Kivu, Rwanda.
  3. I have come to develop a very fond appreciation for the English language. It has brought me so many connections with people from all over the world whom, without it, I never would have been able to communicate with. It is a binding language throughout so many countries that it gives a unique ability for many people to travel with at least some ability to get around. It is also lovely to hear the different accents when different people speak English, and fun to watch two non-native speakers talk to one another. During a trip to the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia, I had a great time acting as a translator for a friend from Japan, our driver from Addis Ababa and an awesome couple from Spain when there were miscommunications. I recognize that I am very privileged to have English as my native tongue, although I do not want that to be the only language that I speak. My newfound union with my mother tongue certainly does not give a pass to most people from the U.S. who only speak English and do not feel the need to know anything else. I think it is quite an ignorant way to live in the world only speaking English because we know that most people speak at least some. I have renewed my desire to learn more German during my travels (DuoLingo tells me I am now 31% fluent) and I greatly hope to maintain my Damara without speaking to my friends daily.

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    DuoLingo gets it better than most men do.
  4. People from the U.S. generally do not travel like people from other parts of the world do. It was almost an everyday occurrence for me to meet someone from Australia, Europe or South America who had been traveling for 8 months, and some who had a few years tucked away in their resume. They were people who had recently quit jobs and were trying to put their lives in a different direction, students who were traveling in between Masters and Ph.D. programs, or people who realized that their life is more important than the standards set by society. Most people I know in the U.S. cannot fathom being gone for more than a few weeks on holiday, and to be fair a lot of that has to do with our broken governmental and job structures that only allow for two weeks of holiday a year. Not to mention the most minimal and embarrassing maternity leaves in the ENTIRE WORLD, but that is for another post. I am beginning to understand the different cultural norms that equate lesser or greater happiness, more fulfillment in work and in life, and I appreciate those who make choices in accordance to themselves as opposed to national boundaries.

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    Nungwi, Zanzibar
  5. Something that I struggled with a lot during my travels is the overwhelming disposability of life on the move. At the risk of sounding like Edward Norton talking to Tyler Durden, everything my journey necessitates is costly to the environment. Coffee and food that are often taken to go instead of sitting down and eating at a restaurant costs the environment in the packaging that is used. Plastic bags that are used by so many travelers, every time they go to the store. Small soaps and toiletries that are coveted by travelers like opiates in middle class suburbs. Plastic bags used by people purchasing one candy bar in the grocery store. Petrol for the dozens of smelly, overcrowded buses I have been on to get from one location to the other. Plastic bags. So much waste is accumulated by travelers, often un-necessarily, that I often wondered how much destruction people who think that they are doing good in the world are actually causing. It takes a lot of extra mental and physical effort to leave a smaller carbon footprint, and I will be the first to admit that it is often the last thing that you want to think about after schlepping 50 kilograms of baggage through the streets of Prague when you arrive at midnight, searching for your hostel. I get it. But if we are to move in this fantastic world that allows us life changing experiences and stories that we will never forget, that extra moment of stopping at a store to pick up fresh produce instead of a packaged dinner for your trip (and carrying your own reusable bag) can make a big difference. Especially when it becomes a habit and you repeat these small steps daily. This is the responsibility of someone whose global impact encompasses more terrain than the average person, but the world will be a better place for future generations if everyone did their part in their everyday lives as well.

http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/14901/1/The-Effects-of-Plastic-Bags-on-Environment.html

 

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Forgetting our reusable bags when shopping in Arusha, Tanzania.

 

  1. I have learned that traveling during the off-season is absolutely amazing. There are less tourists crowding the streets, which give you more time and space for you to explore the otherwise permeated attractions. It is always cheaper to travel off season, from hostels to tourist destinations to admission tickets. The only down side to this type of travel, of course, if that there is often construction and renovations taking place on the historical monuments and buildings. They take advantage of the low season just like we do, I guess.
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    Cologne Cathedral, Köln, Deutschland
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    Old Town – Prague, Czech Republic
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    Old Town – Warsaw, Poland

     

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    Shipyard Area – Gdańsk, Poland
  2. Of all that I have experienced, the lessons I have learned and the people I have met along the way, nothing sticks out to me more than something that my Godmother and I often talk about: taking risks is sometimes met with obstruction, and that is normal. More than likely, it is a necessary part of the process of trying something new. What better way to find out how you truly feel about something than to test your limits and capabilities to the point of exasperation? And if you can continue on, fantastic – you will reap the infinite rewards for your perseverance. If you cannot (or more realistically, don’t want to) continue, you are all the better for recognizing that something does not serve you. You can always change your direction. You can always alter your course. Life is too short to do anything that doesn’t set your soul on fire.

 

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Finding out I am suddenly afraid to cliff jump and that getting older sucks – Lake Malawi.

 

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Before almost crashing onto the shore of our camping spot – Lake Malawi.

Service: as an Idea and a Concept

 

“I slept, and I dreamt that life was all joy.

I woke, and saw that life was but service.

I served, and discovered that service was joy.”

– Rabindranath Tagore

 

I used to roll my eyes at people who “only” donated to charities and, in my limited perspective then, didn’t “actually do anything” of substantial action. Although I still think that action is the optimal impact that necessitates change, I have come to understand that many people simply don’t have the time or ability to do more than donate money. That donation of monetary resources is still coming from a good place and will (hopefully) serve a purpose of addressing physical needs, improved education or sustainable development. It might look different from someone else’s service, whether religious or moralistic, but it is service nonetheless and should be acknowledged.  Service looks different to everyone and is not as easily recognizable as the stereotypical views many people have.

 

I have gotten used to people’s shocked faces at this point when I tell them that I just finished 27 months volunteering in Namibia (after I correct them on their pronunciation of “Nambia” – thanks a lot, 45). Especially for those coming from somewhere outside of the United States, the idea of “giving up” two years of their life seems other worldly, and the longest volunteering possibility they have in their countries might be a few months. These reactions got me thinking recently about how I regard my two years of “service” – did I think of it as giving up time in my own life in order to do something for others? Did I see it as my duty? Was I fulfilling some sort of universal white guilt for having grown up without worry of what would be for dinner that evening?

 

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The day of arrival at the airport for Group 41 in Namibia.

 

“Serve out of duty until you can serve out of love – without attachment to the results.”

 

The more that I have been thinking about it, the more I realized that I didn’t look at it as a selfless act where I went off to “save the world”, although I would never admonish someone who chose to serve for that reason. In my months of travel, decompression and reflection (in which I have been very uncharacteristically open and vulnerable about my struggles to you, dear reader), I look back at my time in Namibia as personal and professional growth. I went to a new country where I learned a new language, new customs, new traditions and a completely different governmental structure that taught me more patience and perseverance than I ever knew there was in the world. I learned about the infinite possibilities of living a life, of having a career, of raising a family, of taking the time that you need instead of rushing to the point of exhaustion. I learned how to write proposals, how to create an entire program with the resources I had available to me (read: absolutely none) and without any donors or sponsorships. I created lasting friendships with people whose country I did not know existed before being accepted into the Peace Corps, and whom I will stay in contact with for the rest of my life. None of this came from a place of me feeling like I was giving something of myself to others, it simply came from living a new life and experiencing it to my fullest capacity.

 

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Warsaw National Museum

 

Though the motivation for “serving” has certainly dwindled after my 2-year contact finished, I am contemplating my desire to continue a life of service. Am I willing to commit another 27 months to a different program? That would be a complete and resounding no, for many reasons not limited to monetary constraints. But what I can do, and attempt to do every day, is commit myself to acts of kindness to those around me and a treatment of respect and equality to those I encounter. To me, that is a kind of service that there needs to be more of in the world: a simple kind of service that does not take away from someone’s energy, time or money, and ultimately makes the world (if only for one person in one specific moment) a better place. Service can be living a life that you love and feel passionate about, whatever that is. I have felt sincere happiness and motivation from meeting people who are caught in a whirlwind of bliss thanks to what they have chosen to do with their lives. I think it is beautiful and meaningful to feel a purpose in life, and I do not think that purpose has to be giving to or doing for others – doing what makes you happy, being kind to those you encounter and doing as little harm to others as well as the Earth are enough, in my perspective.

 

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Vineyards in Esslingen, Germany

 

“Not because you are somehow special or more deserving, but because you have within you that unstoppable impulse to share yourself with others. Someday, you will write, teach, and do other things, too, to reach out to your spiritual family, to remind them of their mission, to give the clarion call.”

 

All of this to say, I am thrilled with the life that I have chosen to live and continue to work on. I feel more prepared every day to return to the U.S., however briefly, to reunite with friends and family. It has been a long time since I have felt that readiness and I am eternally grateful for these last four months that have given me the space and time to process my experiences in an individual, self-caring way. I am looking forward for what is to come next and the paths that lie ahead, however unknown. Although there is a lot that I am unsure of, there is one certainty that I have – my life will be of service, and that will morph and change as I age and change. This thought brings me serenity, happiness and peace. What more is there to ask for?

 

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Kraków, Poland

 

“One day you will serve others not out of self-interest or guilt or social conscience, but because there’s nothing else you’d rather do.”

 

 

All quotations, aside from the beginning Tagore quote, from Dan Millman’s

Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior

 

Genocide, Reparations and What it Means to Forget

 

I often ruminate on the thought that the travels I have experienced the last four months are simultaneously unique and discordantly similar to what other people in my generation have done before. I am reminded of this especially when I am Couchsurfing at someone’s house, who was a stranger to me moments before they picked me up from whatever mode of transport I came into their town with. Most of the people on Couchsurfing are around my age (+/- 10 years or so) and have their own incredible stories of world travel to share with me: about the friends they met, the sights that date back to the times of B.C. they have seen and especially of the vulnerability to be completely on their own in an unfamiliar place. They talk about things that I have felt in my own heart but have been unable to explain to those I love who seem not to understand this intrinsic necessity for me to experience life as a nomad. Their words come from their own mouths with their individual twists, and I find myself molding to them, sinking into a comfortable contentment of kindred spirits. We share parts of ourselves with one another that many people would usually only talk to their close friends about. But we know that life is incredibly short and unpredictable – to be open, in all regards, is to live a life of freedom.

 

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Overlooking the Rhine near Königswinter, Germany.

 

After being to both the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, the Dokumentarisocialismus Musem in München, Germany, the Holodomor Memorial in Ukraine and finally Aushwitz-Birkenau near Krakow, Poland, I have finally formulated some (unfinished) thoughts and opinions around the past, present and future of humanity. Some of the most despicable parts of human history have been encapsulated within these museums and memorials, showing that when it comes to human life as a commodity, many people have been (and continue to be) willing to take the rights and dignity of others for the furthering of their own motivations and objectives. People are placed into a category of “otherness” by those in power or those who have influence over the populace (these are quite often the same people) in order to polarize and divide a community. These factions and sides, with already differing beliefs, are pushed farther on each end of their political and ideological spectrum in order to remain steadfast in their knowledge, while those who rule the country are left to their own surreptitious actions of destruction. This is how it began in Germany with the Jewish, Sinti, Roma, homosexual (the list goes on) pogroms as well as in Rwanda with the Tutsi genocides – the creation of identification cards, allowing for easy access to a religious or tribal affiliation that all can see; placing inexcusable blame upon the “other” for the reasons that the government and life in general have begun to sink into a downward spiral. This succeeds in further polarizing the “other” by attempting to create a uniform society that does not reflect the diversity that has long made a community and the world at large something to be renowned and appreciated. I see such sadness intertwined in all of these cultures that I have spent time in – an unconscious guilt that I wish I experienced in the United States in regards to the atrocities committed against Native Americans, black citizens, those on the LGBTIQA+ spectrum (the list goes on). Instead, I feel a consistent lack of acknowledgement and responsibility, and worse than that, a cyclical return to hateful and genocidal actions.  There is no way to ignore the harm and legacy that 45 has created in the United States in less than a year as “president”, and those ramifications are truly felt worldwide. I will be processing the infinite conversations I have had during my travels of people trying to understand how he could possibly be in power. Trying to explain my disappointment, my admonishment of those hateful people who voted for him, the Electoral College (logic does not apply), and how scared I am of the future has left me depleted and hollow about my eventual return to it all. How do we want to be viewed by the rest of the world? Do we want to continue being the joke of the world powers – laughed at, mocked for our hypocritical policies, heads shaking at the absurdity of it all, and at worst, despised for our ignorance of not only our own country, but the rest of the world and our impact upon it?

 

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Holocaust Memorial, Berlin, Germany

 

For some, the United States has been seen as a beacon of light in regards to individual rights and freedom – as a girl in Poland recently told me, she has always thought of the U.S. as a hope for her own country’s future and the possibility for equality, until now. As a man in Prague told me recently, he feels that the U.S. is finally getting what it deserves in its share of “tyrannical dictators”. A man in Ethiopia commented that he wishes he could go to the U.S. so that he could see a country that has succeeded so well in wiping away the remnants of colonization and mass genocide that should stain its surface. Conversations like this force me to take a deep breath before responding, knowing that the impact of my words and my perspectives have the potential to improve an individual’s idea of what the U.S. stands for, showing them a different side to the atrocities that they see and hear.

 

This has brought about an interesting discussion that I have had with many different people in regards to best practices of coming out of a genocidal regime. Weird concept, right? “best practices for post-genocide” How does a country, its citizens and its leaders decide how to move forward from a horrific event that has often left more than half the population displaced, traumatized or murdered? How do you bring two opposing sides of political and personal ideology back together in a way that does the least amount of continual damage, while respecting the individual rights and beliefs of everyone in the country? The answer is, you don’t. There are always going to be radical factions on both sides of the spectrum – the question is, how far do you allow these ideologies to be perpetuated? Is it possible to control? And who is in charge of managing this relationship?

 

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Auschwitz-Birkenau, Krakow, Poland

 

I don’t claim to know the answers to these questions. As a girl in Rwanda told me, there are good ways to remember the genocides so as not to repeat them again, but there is a fine line where these actions rip open the scabs that are slowly trying to heal. Children of the Hutu clan in Kigali are forced to dig open the graves of murdered Tutsi people in order to humanize the history of the genocides. The girl watched the line of children parade down the street, tears streaking their cheeks and vomit staining the fronts of their shirts. Rwanda has to be one of my favorite countries that I have visited this last third of a year backpacking, and it is incredibly peaceful. There is an eerie calm throughout the country that reminded me of how it must have felt to be in that movie with Jim Carrey where he is in a fake world. I felt the tranquility of everyone on their best behavior, where everything is in order and no one steps out of line. A pin could have popped the tension in the air, similar to Jim Carrey finally stepping through the door of his movie set life. The motorcycle taxi drivers always have a helmet for passengers. People on the streets are kind, polite and no one asked me for money (no one – that has never happened before, anywhere in the world). There are police officers with AK-47s on every street corner. Things work, the country is in order, people appear happy. But is that recovery? Is that freedom? Who am I to say?

 

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Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

 

All of these thoughts have come out of some of the most incredible experiences of my life. I know the privilege I have to be able to travel for so long (blog post upcoming on how to travel on a dirt cheap budget, with tips from my own cheap self) and to have the perspective that I do to observe as opposed to being stuck in the worlds that I have encountered. I hope that through my sharing of these experiences, I can help others to see the world in a different way than they have previously, with an open heart to those who are different and the courage to stand up for what is right. I hope that it more people speak out on a daily basis when they see harassment on the street, when someone is being bullied in an online forum, or when someone’s human rights are stripped of them due to ignorance and fear. I am sometimes sick to my stomach when I think of where the United States is headed, until I am surprised once again by the compassion, kindness and love that I feel from strangers and those I love alike. It is not too late to make sure that history does not repeat itself, and I fully intend on being a part of the resistance. I hope that you are also.

 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

– Martin Niemöller

 

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Mala Strana, Prague, Czech Republic

 

Close, and Yet So Far

 

Disclaimer: This was written about a week ago.  I am completely fine, safe, staying with a good friend. (Mom, please re-read that last statement) and on my way to Rwanda very soon.  Now that you have been briefed.. Proceed 🙂

 

Here I sit in my hotel room, aptly named Hotel Harambe, feeling like I arose from the dead compared to the despair I felt yesterday. Yesterday I discovered that I unintentionally sent my passport to the UK with my friend who I had been traveling with for the last two months, meaning that I am stuck in Kampala for the foreseeable future until the extremely reliable mail system gets my document to me. After realizing this most unfortunate circumstance, I took a relaxing walk through one of the busiest sectors of the city, dodging men’s attempted grabs, avoiding the eruption of frustration that threatened to bubble up at every “owe me water, owe me your water, OWE ME COKE!” and explaining to Uganda’s citizens that it is actually not polite to call a white person ‘mzungu’ just because you see me as different (“Do I call you a black person in the street?”).

 

I was being reminded of the anger I felt in Namibia – the cold washing over of disdain for people who took one look at me and placed their predetermined ideas of who and what I was, saw me as a part of a larger whole and not an individual person. For the past two years of my Peace Corps service, I saw Namibia, but especially Khorixas, as a very different place from the rest of the African continent. I saw it as underdeveloped, but with so much potential; I saw it as a place where I had some of my lowest moments in my life and felt despair for the way I was sometimes treated; I thought it was unique in its ability to get under my skin because it became home to me, with all the arrays and nuisances that home encompassed. Last night, I was enraged all over again at the difference I felt walking through this city as a single woman as opposed to the travels I have had over the last two months in a group and then with a male friend. I felt tears burning the corners of my eyes as I choked back sadness for how little difference we make in this world, and how no matter what I do, there will always be societal hierarchies that are predetermined by many and prescribed to many more through familial and structured teachings. Despite my lack of belief in them, and my work to combat and challenge them, they will always remain.

 

I stumbled into a nearby shopping center to my hotel, in search of human contact that was not expecting me to give them money, my water or my non-existent phone number. After wandering aimlessly through the store filled with products containing fixed prices (thank God, was all I could think, I would not be charged ‘mzungu price’ like I was on the street from the hawkers, boda-boda drivers and produce ladies) I settled on conditioner so I could go home and take a shower to wash away my unsettling thoughts. As I made my way to the check-out lines, each bolstering at least 15 people, I settled into my body and consciously worked to unclench my jaw, gently smoothing the newly formed lines around my mouth from the constant grimace I wore, hoping my body language would emit a protective force field around me. I relaxed into my jeans, took a deep breath that filled the shirt I was wearing to dress modestly, just as the man in front of me turned around to look me directly in the eyes and smile. My gaze met his, ready to react defensively, as I have become so used to doing.

 

“Good evening, madam, I hope you are well.”

(me, leering and avoiding eye contact) “I am fine, thank you, I hope you are as well.”

“Yes, yes, even me, I am also fine.” (I nod my head disinterestedly)

“Please, go ahead of me in line – I have many more things than you, and I want you to feel at home in Uganda. In Uganda, we treat our visitors as we do with guests in our own home.”

(Doing double takes to see if he is serious and working on forming my lips into a smile as I thank him, telling him it is unnecessary, but knowing it is impolite to refuse a gesture from someone).

 

My friend and I were talking recently about the parallels of standing out in a foreign country when you are traveling, either being treated with so much respect (often to the point of being put onto a pedestal) that you are uncomfortable, or realizing that many people do not see you as a person – after all, tourists are simply rich people who come from other countries to exploit the resources of the country they are visiting, as I was told is the thought of many local people. Not entirely untrue, but an unfair stereotype nonetheless. We are often skipped in line, ignored when we are trying to find out information, and charged at least triple the normal price of things like street food, boda-boda rides and tickets to events and cultural sightseeing. We are laughed at when we try to greet in the local language, laughed at when people look at our hiking bags, laughed at when we don’t know where something is.

 

This is why I was so shocked at this man’s kindness, his sincere desire to make me feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar place. His lack of expectation was so refreshing that I nearly forgot about the frustrating, maddening day that had nearly led me to resigning my travels that I had felt just moments before. I paid for my conditioner and walked out of the store, back to the direction of my hotel, not even hearing the shouts of ‘mzungu, I want bottle!” and gently brushing off the men who grabbed at me to try to get me onto their boda-boda. As I sat in the hotel lobby, making plans for my friend to send my passport back to me, I realized that this is what traveling is all about – resigning the fact that you will be pushed beyond your limits, discovering that you are stronger than you ever believed and pushing through the awful moments to make room for the beautiful ones. I laughed to myself as I added “my passport” and “my unflinching sanity” to my bullet journal page of “Things I Am Letting Go Of” in my journal. After all, what more can you ask for than the blessing of experiencing new countries, new cultures and realizing how small and similar the world is?

 

I love Namibia, as a country, and many of the people who I met during my years of living there. But I will be the first to admit that I was (and still am) jaded beyond belief after my service. I felt that I had not made as much of a difference in my community as I originally hoped (of course, I recognize that almost every volunteer feels this way – the unattainable sense of accomplishment is what drives us to become Peace Corps volunteers in the first place) and had not changed people’s ideologies as much as I intended, even if only surrounding people from the United States and the roles of women in society. After last evening’s events, I feel a trickling relief and calmness spread throughout my mindset of Namibia and my work that I did there. I feel at peace with those who made my work there difficult, and peace with myself for giving my all to the cause of globalization, understanding of one another and the small impact that I know I had. I feel ready for my next adventures, my next countries I will visit, and subsequently with finding a job that brings me satisfaction and fulfillment in this crazy, unpredictable world.

 

But first, I wait for the mail system..

 

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The Baha’i Temple in Kampala.  It is the only temple on the African continent that was built to symbolize the unity of all people, all religions and a more equal world for humans.

 

Things I Appreciate About Uganda:

  • White Coffee – it is nearly impossible (in most of Eastern Africa) to get a black coffee with milk on the side. Most times you are asked if you want black coffee or ‘white coffee’, which consists of half of a cup of coffee and half of a cup of steamed milk. I’m not going to lie, its not bad.. Even for a coffee snob.
  • Boda-bodas – I can and probably will spend an absurd amount of money (meaning, $1 or $2 per ride) to hop on the back of these janky motorcycles as transportation throughout the busy city of Kampala. Although certainly not street worthy most of the time, they do not follow normal traffic laws. This is great when you want to get somewhere quickly but would have to sit in a car for 30 minutes to get there, or opt for this careening, driving down an invisible lane, side-swiping cars along the way bodas. When there is no way, these drivers make one.
  • The weather – I can see why people come and stay in Uganda when there seems to be a consistent breeze, cool temperatures and sun that is not oppressively, patriarchally hot (you’re welcome, Michael 😉 ). I have spent many happy, lazy mornings here, sitting on the back verandah of my friend’s house, drinking coffee and reading for hours. From what I hear, the weather is like that all year round, making it an optimal place for those who do not enjoy sweating all day, every day.
  • English Proficiency – Uganda has been rated as one of the top countries in the developing world for its excellence in the English language (along with Kenya and Zambia), which has come as a welcome relief after traveling through Malawi and Tanzania, where English was not a main focus of the school system. I never realized how much I would appreciate being able to understand the people around me until I lived in a place where English was rarely spoken. It is lovely to see street signs that I understand (Swahili is not as common here as it was in Tanzania, Kenya and Zanzibar) and know that I will be able to communicate with most people I encounter.

So You Think You Want to Be A Peace Corps Volunteer [Part 2]

 

It is a tale as old as time that to every story, there are two sides, and sometimes many more, needed in order to understand it fully (can you tell I watched Beauty and the Beast recently?.  This is no less true in my service here in Namibia and often complicates my feelings about how I have spent the last two years.  Yes, of course.. there are incredible stories of friendship, laughter and splendid surprises, with memories I will cherish for the rest of my life, all thanks to my time here.  People who have welcomed me into their homes when I did not feel like I belonged anywhere.  Sunny days and sunsets with people I love that will be etched into my mind and looked back on fondly.

As with anything, especially when you are doing development work, the good comes with a healthy helping of the bad, and the bad sometimes comes with a side order of the awful.  With only one month left of service, I am doing a lot of reflecting on the multi-faceted memories that I will be taking along with me on my travels and then back to my birthplace.  I have been thinking about the questions that people will ask, what they will want to hear and how that will affect me.  No one wants to hear the negative parts of an adventure – no one wants to be told about the sadness and frustrations felt – but I believe that is all part of the process of reacclimatizing.  It will be important for me to share in the decompression process with those that I love, and who I know love me.
In an effort to begin that process now, and to complement the “What I will miss about Namibia” post I finished recently, I want to share a few of the things that I will not miss about Namibia.  Not because I dislike Namibia or want to dissuade anyone from visiting, living or volunteering in this country, but because I think that the balance of truth is far from being available to people thinking about serving in the Peace Corps.  The things that I will not miss are very real and probably felt by most volunteers at one point or another during their service – if I am able to give even one person insight into how to cope, or to be more prepared for what is imminent in their lives abroad, I will feel peace.  It is also part of my healing and reintegration process, so please bear with me.  And in order to make this post a bit more positive and focus on constructive criticism, I will also include how I coped with these frustrations.  Because what is venting without a way to move forward?
So with as little cynicism and as much truth as I can muster in these last few weeks of life in Namibia, I present to you..
The 5 Things I Will Not Miss About Namibia
  1. Sticking out in a crowd (and sometimes even an entire town or village).  I would NEVER have expected this to be as exhausting, time consuming and emotionally draining as it turned out to be.  Sure, we got advice on how to integrate and to not take every stare, laugh at our attempts at the local language and unexpected question to heart (owe me money, give me your number, give me a white baby), it it difficult not to internalize many of these remarks.  Especially when you have to hear them every day.  Multiple times a day.  For the better part of two years, apart when I was traveling outside of Khorixas, if I went outside that day, it meant that I had given people the liberty to speak to me (of course this is usually fine – greetings are expected and important in this culture), ask me for my personal possessions, ask to date me, and often times touch or grab me without my consent.  This is easily the most upsetting and frustrating part of being a volunteer for me.  HOW DID I COPE?: It takes a long time and an even larger amount of patience to come up with ways to be culturally sensitive about teaching respect from your own point of view and your own important cultural identity.  I found that telling someone that they are disrespecting me, as respect is a hugely important part of Damara culture (whether you are giving it or not sends a message to everyone involved and watching), and that what they are doing is not appropriate in my culture helped.  This gave the person some context and background information about why I was reacting the way that I was, instead of making me seem cold hearted or unwelcoming.  There are certainly quite a few cases where this did not work and alternative facts – I mean, alternative approaches had to be taken, but those stories will be saved for in person conversations.
  2. The lack of fruits and vegetables in traditional Damara food.  A typical meal cooked in my town consists of pap (corn maize mean cooked with oil and salt), a large piece of red meat (remember that chicken is sometimes considered vegetarian here) cooked with spices and more salt, and potato salad cooked with mayonnaise, spices and.. you guessed it – salt.  It is rare to find local vegetables and even rarer to find someone with a garden at their house, growing their own.  Vegetables and fruits are also quite expensive at the store, since they have to be shipped in from nearby cities.  I can’t wait to be able to afford healthy options, and to simply HAVE those healthy options, at my disposal.  Fresh pressed juices, local produce, ALL OF THE AVOCADOS.. I am coming for you.  HOW DID I COPE?: Planting a community garden where I sourced most of my vegetables right from my front yard at the Ministry.  I not only got to teach others about the importance of home gardening, but got to have the most fresh and tasty produce for my meals.  I also purchased fruits and vegetables on my way back to Khorixas when I was traveling from somewhere else, getting a better selection, cheaper prices and saving on travel money since I was already heading that way.
  3. The oppressive, patriarchal, downright hateful sun.  This may be more specific to Khorixas in general, as I have spoken to many volunteers who do not have the same blinding, gates of hell, rays of the devil sunshine that we have here.  And I certainly do not want to generalize an entire country when most of my experience has been in one town (because the mountains cast a valley-effect onto this town, and they reflect the sunshine, Andrew.. I know you believe it now).  But good god.. I have never witnessed a sun like the one that we have here.  You can go outside for a minute and feel your skin sizzling.  You can walk from your room to the front door of your compound and already have sweated out the liter of water you drank in preparation for an outing into society.  I cannot wait for clouds in the sky, rain that lasts for longer than 5 minutes and the unpredictability of weather that I forgot existed.  Aside from drunk taxi drivers, the sun has become my worst enemy during my service and I am thrilled to leave it behind.  HOW DID I COPE?:  Wearing all the sunscreen.  I hate the sticky, oily feel of it, but man.. my skin is thankful for the effort I put into it.  I also caved and bought a tourist hat and umbrella for the days when the sun was just too strong.  I might have stood out a bit more (I didn’t think that was possible), but it was worth it in the long run to have the extra protection.
  4. Hitchhiking as a mode of transportation – or, to put it more bluntly, the only mode of transportation – in Namibia.  It has been incredibly interesting to meet such a vast array of people in a method that I never thought possible 2 years ago.  As one of my past blog posts indicates, I have met some of my best friends and had some of my best experiences through hitchhiking through Namibia.  However, this does not negate the fact that I was putting my life into the hands of total strangers and hoping that they were decent enough drivers (at the very least, that they had their driver’s licenses).  It was always a risk getting into a car with someone you do not know well, or at all, and hope that you have made a good choice in your intuition.  Aside from the measures of safety I have become a bit lax on, it is a lesson in patience to be at the hands of another person’s concept of timing.  If I plan to travel to the capital city of Windhoek, I know that I have to get up at 6:30 to make coffee, have breakfast, pack the last minute things and walk to the road by 8:00.  Even though Otjiwarongo is about 2 hours away, I know that I will not get there before 10:45/11:00 due to waiting for a ride and the potential for a slower car traveling that way.  Once I get to Otjiwarongo, it takes an extra 30 minutes to walk to the edge of town where I will await another ride.  This ride usually arrives quite quickly due to the frequency of travelers from OTT to Windhoek, but I still will not make it to the city before 3:00 pm.  A 4 hour trip in (a normal) car turns into a 7 hour adventure, full of negotiating, squatting on the side of the road to pee, sharing snacks and conversations (mostly enjoyable) with strangers in the rides.   HOW DID I COPE?:  Books.  Conversations.  Understanding that everything ends at some point, no matter how painful or uncomfortable a ride may be.  Remembering to write little notes or send an sms to look back on and laugh at some of the absurd moments.  Take a deep breath and remember that I have had the privilege for a lifetime to live in a country that I did not even know existed 2 1/2 years earlier.
  5. The weddings, babies and life events that I have been gone from during my time of service.  I did not realize how much it was going to impact me to miss three weddings, four babies and a few engagements to people that I love dearly.  I wanted to be there to celebrate with all of them, and to console the ones who lost special people in their lives.  I felt dissociated from the parts of myself that I hold dearly, such as my strong sense of loyalty to my friends and the ability that I used to have to be there for my loved ones in times of great happiness as well as overwhelming sorrow.  One of the most difficult things during my service was to be reminded constantly of “how you must miss your family” from colleagues, friends and even random strangers.  Although I plan to live a life of travel and adventure, I am excited to have a home base that is closer to the people I care about.  At least for the time being.  HOW DID I COPE?:  I’m gonna be honest here, not well.  I do not cry often, as most of my family and friends know at this point, but the random tears that erupt out of nowhere have posthumously been blamed 90% of the time on the sadness I have felt for missing my family and friend’s important life events.  I did as much as I could to keep in contact with them as much as possible, despite my limited access to internet and not having a smart phone that connected to data – Skype, FaceTime and giving updates through blog posts became a treat.  A lot of my friends were really great about sending letters, packages (thanks, Aunt Alexa, Mom and Dad!) postcards (thanks, Kels Kels!) or pictures through Facebook and email (thanks, Ashley and Lana!) to help me feel a bit more connected to what was going on in their lives.  I have appreciated every moment that someone took out of their day to think about me and send a small message.  You guys probably have no idea what kind of impact that had on my motivation and overall happiness, and I can’t thank you enough for making me smile on the tough days (which there were plenty of).

 

I have begun to formulate my feelings on closing my service and moving into the unknown abyss that is the next step in my life.  I have thoughts on how I am ‘supposed’ to feel, and I am sure I will begin to acquire the feelings as they come.  For now, I can look back on the paradoxical experience of my Peace Corps service, relishing in how truly lucky I feel to have accomplished what I did in two years, and grappling with how strangely onerous living in Namibia has been.  I would never change my decision to fulfill my dream of serving.  I will always cherish the memories I have made, the people who I have come to know and love.  It will take me some time to find the humor and gain humility to process some of it, but until then, I will continue on to what is next.

 

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